Argentina vs Switzerland: Lionel Messi and Argentina looking to finally flex their muscles

Alejandro Sabella hopes knockout stages will focus squad

On the eve of Argentina’s first knock-out game, manager Alejandro Sabella was asked about the primary issue hanging over Brazil’s public house party. Have his team thought much about the idea of winning the World Cup in the home of their most historic rivals, especially given all it would entail?

LIVE: The latest from Argentina vs Switzerland and Belgium vs United States

Sabella refused to offer any comment that would stoke further emotion, but did raise something else. “First of all, winning the World Cup is a huge motivation. We haven’t won it since 1986.”

To do that, Argentina are also going to have to pass a few more elementary challenges. Remarkably for a country with such a World Cup history, they have not reached the semi-finals in 24 years. That is because, in that time, they have barely beaten anybody else after the group stages.

One stat stands out. Since 1990, Mexico are the only country that Argentina have actually defeated in normal time of a knock-out, having met them in 2006 and 2010.

Beyond that, they famously beat England on penalties in 1998, but have otherwise lost to Romania, the Netherlands and - on two occasions - Germany.

As such, it is not just Switzerland that Argentina must overcome in Sao Paulo today, but a curious mental complex about the latter stages of this competition.

 

The difference this time is that Sabella feels it is precisely the knock-out that will focus minds.

“This is another stage and there is no margin for error. In the group stage, there is always the possibility to recover. Not now. We know we have to be very concentrated. Every error now is more costly, also because of the level of the opposition.

“You have to be strong emotionally and psychologically. I think there’s a philosopher who once said that one gram of brain cell is more important than any muscle in the body.”

The expectation is Argentina will finally flex their muscles tomorrow.

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